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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Should DJUSD Alter its Secondary Education Grade Level Configuration and School Facilities?

An interesting discussion is beginning in the next few weeks, there will be site level meetings beginning tonight at Emerson, tomorrow night at Harper, next Tuesday at Holmes, and a week from Thursday at Davis High. The purpose of these meetings will be to gather input from parents and local residents in particular about grade-level configuration and district facilities.

Currently Davis High School is set up as a Grade 10 through 12 school. That is rather unusual however, most high schools, 90 percent in California in fact, are 9 through 12. Such a configuration represents both advantages and disadvantages as we learned last year through some preliminary discussion.

One of the big advantages is that it allows 9th graders to remain on junior high campuses rather than pushing them to the high school where they face added pressures as has been stated a number of times--it tends to keep the ninth graders younger rather than mixing them with 16 to 18 year-olds.

On the downside, the curriculum for 9th graders is set up more like that of the high school, this forces the junior high to provide those level classes to 9th graders resulting in inefficiencies and economy of scale problems.

In an November interview with the Enterprise, Superintendent James Hammand emphasized the fact that no decision had been made yet.

He said:
"One of the main things I'm seeking is for people to evaluate grade configuration through a couple of lenses... One is the programmatic and instructional lens. Are we configured the best way possible, the best way to maximize student achievement"

"The other lens is the fiscal and physical lens. When you take a headcount of our students, and look at our facilities, are we as efficient and effective as we can be?"
However, a number of groups and community members have expressed concerns about the change.

Becky Linville, Eric Davis, and Paul Stukas recently wrote a letter in opposition to the current proposal:
"We write on behalf of the Davis Friends of Neighborhood Schools, formed to support the current grade-level configuration of Davis schools (K-6, 7-9 and 10-12). We oppose the Davis Joint Unified School District's expected proposal to move approximately 680 ninth-graders into the crowded Davis High School campus of 1,700-plus students.

The district has shown no evidence that such a reconfiguration will assist the academic or emotional growth of our ninth-graders, or any other students in the district. Why risk our district's current academic achievements and low dropout rate by such a profound change?"
On the group's website:
"Friends of Neighborhood Schools believes there should be a compelling reason to change the Grade Level Configuration of the Davis Schools. At this point, we do not believe a compelling case has been shown. We have not seen any evidence or research that shows changes to the Grade Level Configuration will improve the quality of our children's education.

If 680 ninth graders are moved to the high schools next school year, there will be a net increase of approximately 400 students at DHS (assuming Da Vinci High School moves to Valley Oak and 80% of the Da Vinci students will move). Many people in Davis think DHS is too crowded now; how will it be with a net increase of 400 students? [NOTE: The Da Vinci Charter Academy petition approved by the School Board includes 10-12th grades at Valley Oak, and 7-9th grades phased in at Emerson Jr. High]."
The big question at this point is whether this is a fiscal decision or an educational decision. There seems to be costs associated with the current model in terms of providing the range of classes for 9th graders. On the other hand, it appears that moving kids to the high school would have drawbacks as well. As the group stated above, Davis High is already considered too large, and now you could propose making it a campus of 1700 students. The alternative would be to create two smaller high schools, but that would incur cost of converting a Junior High Campus, possibly Harper into a High School Campus.

The real question is whether the current system is actually broke rather than whether Davis schools are unusual. The fiscal environment make such matters important, but educational considerations ought to first come first.

Board President Gina Daleiden:
"I would like the discussion to include a broad conversation about our educational system, including financial, education and facilities uses in the future... It is very difficult to look at any of these pieces in isolation."
Boardmember Sheila Allen:
"I'll be interested in a balanced analysis of both the educational and fiscal impacts of various grade and site configurations. While we need to continue to look for financial efficiencies, we have to ensure that our excellent programs are supported by the structure at our schools."
Boardmember Susan Lovenburg:
"We must consider carefully the educational and social aspects of a change in our current grade configuration, as well as the financial implications. How do we best serve our students given the resources available? And understanding what the community values is an important part of making this decision."
While the issue is likely to cause controversy, the district appears at this point to be going about this the right way, by having meetings and reaching out to the community first before any decision is made. That is the fortunate part of acting proactively rather than what happened last Spring when the district was in crisis and desperately looking for any way possible to save money.

Here are the times and the locations:
* TONIGHT at Emerson Junior High

* TOMORROW NIGHT at Harper Junior High

* Tuesday, Jan. 27, at Holmes Junior High

* Thursday, Jan. 29, at Davis High School
---David M. Greenwald reporting